Robert Frost: Poetry, Prowess and Play

“Robert Frost: Poetry, Prowess and Play,” the current exhibit at the Robert Frost Stone House Museum, explores Frost’s interest in sports. Frost played softball and tennis well into his eighties and owed his longevity to the mile or two he walked every day. He often composed poems as he walked using the rhythm of his body to create the meter. Frost believed that poetry flowed more naturally from physical exertion than from sitting at a desk.

Frost once said, “I have always thought of poetry as prowess – something to achieve, something to win or lose.” “I look on the poet as a man of prowess, just like an athlete. He’s a performer.” To Robert Frost, life was a continual game of two sides in opposition that was resolved in a sort of play.

The poet was a player of words, “words that become deeds.” He played to win. The idea of friendly competition permeates Frost’s life and poetry. His “opponents” were fellow writers who vied for ideas, publishers, prizes and the attention of critics and academics.

Frost’s favorite baseball team was the Boston Red Sox; his favorite player was Ted Williams. After attending an all-star game in Washington in 1956, Frost wrote a story for Sports Illustrated, “A Perfect Day – A Day of Prowess.”

Frost’s analogy on tennis is famous: “I’d sooner write free verse as play tennis with the net down.” When it came to boxing, Frost once wished the writer had the same satisfaction as a champion fighter: to be declared winner with a knock-out punch. He said, “I hate prize fights where the victory is dependent on the referee’s decision; it seems too much like the arts.” His uncollected poem, “John L. Sullivan Enters Heaven,” is exhibited in autograph form.

The Robert Frost Stone House Museum is located on Historic Route 7A in South Shaftsbury, Vermont. It is open daily (except Monday) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum’s permanent exhibits feature Frost’s life and art in the historic house where he lived in the 1920s. The “Stopping by Woods Room” is totally devoted to Frost’s beloved poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” written at the dining room table on a hot June morning.

Picture of Robert Frost batting at Ripton VT, 1940 from the Peter J. Stanlis Frost Collection, Robert Frost Stone House
Picture of Robert Frost batting at Ripton VT, 1940 from the Peter J. Stanlis Frost Collection, Robert Frost Stone House

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